Moderation : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
Moderation used to be considered a virtue. More recently, it seems, at best, to be an indication of weakness or, at worst, a vice. In this context, however, being moderate is seen as a positive attribute of the Christian life. It is very much about being reasonable, that is, not going to extremes on one side of an issue or another. It is the idea that Christians are not to be seen as easily angered or foolish, but rather as reasonable, wise people who can handle difficulties and disagreements with some degree of maturity. In context, Paul is specifically asking two Christian women, Euodia and Syntyche, to settle some dispute that has arisen, while others in the church are encouraged to be reasonable. Rather than forcing binary choices in which everyone takes a side, he is encouraging moderation.
As someone who comes out of the Anglican tradition, I have always found the idea of being moderate appealing. After all, the Anglican tradition is known as the via media, or the middle way. Originally seen as the middle way between Wittenberg and Geneva, the meaning of the term morphed through the centuries to an understanding of Anglicanism as bridging the gap between Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. Today, however, as a sense of moderation is increasingly rare in Anglicanism, it has splintered and devolved into competing factions of liberals and conservatives who shout over each other, but seldom speak with or to each other. Basically, the factions do not wish to speak to people who do not agree with their point of view. Moreover, as moderation has largely disappeared from the scene, Anglicanism has lost much of its voice with regard to global Christianity, not to mention those outside the Church. Such a result is only to be expected.
This very sad situation, however, is not limited to the Anglican communion. The recent developments in the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, while involving different issues, will, it seems, result in a similar outcome. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, traditionalists and progressives are drawing battle lines. It seems that few faith communities are exempt from what is taking place. All of this, of course, mirrors what is taking place in politics worldwide, but on a smaller scale. As we are pushed to extremes, there is less and less middle ground to be seen.
I wonder, when did we stop listening to each other?
I have always been a moderate in terms of theology. While I don’t hold to inerrancy, I have a very high view of Scripture. While I use modern linguistic and critical tools in the study of the Bible, I also delve into the original languages and consult early patristic sources to assist in interpretation. The result is to be called a “liberal” by the fundamentalists and to be called a “conservative” by modern Biblical critics. Because I value (and take seriously) the Fathers of the Church, the medieval scholastics and the works of the Reformers (both Protestant and Catholic), I am considered a “traditionalist”. Likewise, because I find much to be commended in the works of Karl Barth, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner and Leonard Boff, I am considered a “progressive”. It seems that we have reached the point at which even learning must carry a label to identify us as belonging to one side or another. To be in the “moderate middle”, trying to listen to all sides, is to be alone… and, all too often, to be a target.
I think we stop listening to each other when we see moderation as weakness, rather than perceiving it as a strength. We stop listening to each other when we believe that there is no value in hearing what the “other side” has to say. Now, we are not required by any means to accept or subscribe to all that we might hear, but in failing to listen we run the risk of existing within an echo chamber of our own devising. Moreover, as we have seen in so many splintering faith communities, even within those echo chambers yet more divisions will arise, more walls will be built and more “purity tests” will be exacted.
Maybe it is time to start listening to each other again.
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
There’s plenty of room in the middle.
I hope this is widely read and widely shared. This is the “word” we need today…and what we hope to model here.
Question(s) (not contention)
How do we reason together? How do we stand without being obnoxious? How did our Lord example for us?
As with any conversation, I think it starts by listening. Listening does not mean agreement, but in listening we can find common ground. Secondly, asking questions. Not “gotcha” questions, but real inquiries. That’s at least a start…
We deal mainly in extremes these days…when progress usually demands moderation and compromise.
Extremes will take you over a cliff…moderation will keep you on solid ground.
Is the skill we lack, then, learning moderation without compromise? Or, perhaps, better put, what can be compromised? I cannot see the logic in discarding the dispensational viewpoint, but i have no problem with those who do, for instance… One group is eventually, in for a surprise, though… 😏
Moderation in the case you cite is simply allowing the differences to stand without rancor.
I think the Rapture doctrine is pure eisegesis but choose not to argue with those who find it compelling unless they desire discussion.
Standing doesn’t require enmity in most cases.
A word comes to mind after reading this: forbearance. I’m not up on church history as much as some here, but doesn’t this concept show up in Scripture and in the church’s history? It means patient self control, restraint and tolerance.
Lord knows the Church needs a whole lot of this right now, whatever you want to call it….
A good start might be to honor the commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” In addition, I hear and read people who can’t distinguish between opinion and news, and then go and parrot opinion as if it were news. The vast majority of the cable news shows and internet blogs, are opinion, not news.
By news I mean researched and source-corroborated.
When it comes to rapture theology, I’m still looking for it in the NT. If anyone finds it, let me know.
Yeah, I can’t remember who it was who said, “You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re not
entitled to your own set of facts.”
Like the guy (who should get a Darwin) who didn’t know if the earth was flat or round, flew his homemade rocket and was killed.
All good comments… I learn, genuinely learn, from people, scholars, books and articles with widely differing points of view. I often find myself saying, “I’d not really thought of that way”. After a bit of reflection, I may take it on board, or I may decide otherwise. I cannot, however, ever recall learning from someone who puts forward their case with belligerence. When someone is yelling at you, or calling you names, it becomes almost impossible to hear what they have to say.
Thank you for this. I feel your pain in the middle and the exasperation that fewer and fewer seemingly desire to approach things with reasonableness, cordiality, and reasonableness.
I read your posts and I know that you are experiencing the same… All we can do is what is set before us and try to model the kind of discussions that might have value.